By Kirstin Fawcett U.S. New and World Report
Cope with the pain through diet, exercise and friendship.
Natalie Greggs, a family law attorney who practices in Allen, Texas, likens divorce to a death. The accompanying stress and grief is comparable to a physical loss, she says, and affects you both physically and emotionally.
“I tell my clients, ‘Imagine how you’re going to react to this death, and how it’s going to impact every part of your body – your mind, your stomach, even your ability to walk,” Greggs says. “Self-care is the number one thing that gets you through the day.”
Not only does self-care help get you through the day during a divorce, it’s also important for your future well-being. Research suggests divorced individuals face a heightened risk for certain long-term chronic health problems – a scary prospect, considering that experts estimate the lifelong probability of a marriage ending in divorce to be 40 to 50 percent.
Going through a divorce? Here are some tips on how to stay sane, healthy and hopeful during the painful process.
Get some exercise.
This is one of the first pieces of advice Greggs gives her clients. “If you’re not on a regular exercise routine, get on one,” Greggs says. “You don’t have to belong to a gym. You don’t have to do anything fancy. Just take a walk every day.”
Exercise helps your body produce feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins. It also increases self-confidence, improves sleep and reduces symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression, says Lindsay Hunt, a certified integrative nutrition coach and personal trainer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Any type of physical movement counts as exercise: dancing, walking, yoga, swimming. The most important part, though, is finding something you enjoy. That way, you’ll be likely to repeat it on a regular basis.
Hunt recommends finding a friend or workout buddy to hold you accountable. That person will make sure you have no excuse to stay on the couch.
Overhaul your diet.
When we’re sad, we tend to gain or lose weight. During a divorce, these ups and downs can quickly veer out of control.
“I had a slender client who, over the course of a year, proceeded to lose probably 50 pounds,” Greggs recalls. “By the end of her case, she was skeletal.” In contrast, Mikki Meyer, a licensed marriage and family therapist who practices in New York City, describes a patient who gained nearly 100 pounds.
If you’re binging on unhealthy foods, Hunt recommends taking a pre-emptive approach. Eat three square meals a day, and make sure to combine protein, fat and carbohydrates. Doing so keeps your blood sugar stable, preventing dips that lead to cravings. And make sure to avoid sugar, artificial ingredients, salty foods, excessive caffeine intake and alcohol.
More motivation to consider your diet: It also affects your mood.
“Eating the right foods may ease depression and calm anxiety” during a divorce, Hunt says. She recommends drinking plenty of water, as studies indicate that dehydration can increase cortisol levels, or stress hormones. Also, a diet high in antioxidants might ward off depression – so make sure to fill your plate with fruits and veggies.
Additional research suggests omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty wild fish and nuts, support brain function and elevate mood. Steel-cut oatmeal is a soothing comfort food that provides serotonin-boosting complex carbohydrates. And bone broth is full of minerals, like magnesium, that the body can easily absorb. It’s simple to make into soup and promotes healthy digestion when your stomach is upset.
Drink protein shakes or green vegetable juices, or add gelatin and quality whey proteins to your smoothies. And consider increasing your intake of protein and healthy fats, such as eggs, avocados and nuts. This way, you won’t drop too many pounds.
“It is important to feed your body even if you are not hungry, as our immune systems become extremely vulnerable and weak during times of sadness and stress,” Hunt says. “Finding foods that are comforting and easy to get down is important for your health.”
Stick to a normal schedule.
“Consistency is important” for your emotional health, Greggs says. “Show up to work on time. Have your routine. Make [yourself] and your children go to bed when you usually go to bed. Don’t act like the divorce is ending your life.”